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The Prodigal Son Returns Home

The ongoing personal saga of having a child in the IDF

Thank goodness for weekends.

On Friday at 2am, the soldiers are woken up for three hours of gruelling effort before they are set on a bus on their way to Beersheva and then up north by 10am to start unwinding for their first weekend at home. Less than 48 hours of freedom, sleep, carbo and protein loading, laundry and then it's another bus and train ride back to the base near Eilat.

The same routine follows the next weekend and we all think, "Hey, this stuff isn't too bad." But my son reminds me, "Dad, this is just the beginning." This phase is used to weed out the boys that are not suitable to be in this kind of fighting unit, a unit with extreme physical and mental demands and special forces training.

True to their officers' word, the third week starts and they hit the scorched desert training ground running. They are reshuffled into their designated units and that means making new friends and building new bonds and alliances from scratch. As they say, "brothers in arms" – bonds forged in a fighting unit are bonds for life.

An intense training period follows where every action is monitored and every minute allocated. Sleep is rationed and distance maintained between soldiers and commanding officers. The soldiers do not even know their CO's name. But that's what Facebook is for and my son proudly announces that after a bit of sleuthing, he now knows the officer's name.

Their bodies are physically punished by strenuous exercise, six kilometer hikes with full kit, a week in the open in bitter cold, no showers, no change of clothes. My boy longs for those late mornings snacking in front of the TV.

Back at the base, he shares a room with a motley crew including a religious boy and a Harvard graduate with a physics degree who is on a level field with the rest of the Israeli soldiers. I reckon 12 weeks of basics can rival the full Harvard course for mental agility.

The next milestone is in sight. Thursday at noon, when the whole family is invited to an allegiance ceremony at Latrun tank base near Jerusalem. So we pack a picnic lunch of humus, pita and lots of schnitzels for the ever-hungry soldier and head out for the tank battalion's monument. There we meet our soldier marching on the parade ground in his smart greens with new beret and shoulder insignia.

The ceremony is a moving one. Amidst cries of "Tsachi you are great" from a proud girlfriend, the boys receive their rifles along with a Bible and swear allegiance to the State of Israel. I feel truly proud to be a father of a soldier as they all chant in unison

"I swear allegiance to the State of Israel".

"I swear to protect and uphold our Homeland"

"To receive upon myself without preconditions"

"To do everything in my power not only to save my life, but the lives of others"

As every soldier there roars his conviction "I swear", "I swear", "I swear" I feel the tears well up and my heart pound with pride.

Their chant reverberates out to the distant hills of Jerusalem. I raise my eyes to the sky where a kestrel is circling overhead, at one with the sky, sailing upwards on the wind currents at peace with this world.

Looking down again I see his commanding officer thrusting his rifle towards his chest, anointing him for battle, giving him his Bible that will be held next to his heart to protect him and keep him safe.

The officer calls soldier after soldier, saluting them. The rap of their rifles against their chests along with the thud of the Bibles against their hearts and the cries of allegiance reverberate in my mind on the drive home.

I see things differently now. Everything should be put in its correct proportions. As I sit opposite my son in the restaurant while he is wolfing down a 500g steak, I am washed over by the good energies that glow off him. After living off a tin of tuna and a couple of slices of bread a day, the massive meal satiates his hunger and a peaceful feeling envelops us.

We head back to the car. I know I need to rise at 5am and drive him back to Beersheva so he will be in time to get back to his base and I will once again have to say farewell and a silent prayer to keep him out of harm's way. 



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Thursday, 25 April 2024

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